Compared to a 2015 merger, “phase two [of the current process] far exceeds the expectations,” said one observer.
As the second phase of the General Services Administration's merger of 24 multiple-award schedules into a single contracting vehicle started on Friday, experts applauded the progress the agency has made.
Initially, GSA put only new contracts on the consolidated schedule when it was first published in October. Then on Friday, GSA started the process of restructuring the terms and conditions of current contracts so that they are in sync with those on the new, single contracting vehicle. Contractors have until July 31 to accept the changes. Agencies purchase about $31 billion in goods and services every year through the schedules, and GSA assured them they should not experience disruptions throughout the merger.
“We’re right on track with [the multiple award schedule] consolidation,” GSA Administrator Emily Murphy said in a press release Friday. “Moving to a single schedule is good for federal agencies, our industry partners, and our acquisition workforce. It's a key piece of the picture for making it easier to deliver solutions.“
The Professional Services Council, a trade organization that has over 400 member companies that contract with the federal government, “applauds GSA’s continued progress in phase two of the multiple award schedules consolidation to meet the critical milestones needed to modernize the GSA schedules program,” said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel. “PSC has long supported a single schedule that will make it easier for contractors to offer products, services, and solutions, and for agencies to find these offerings.”
GSA announced its plans for the consolidation in November 2018 after many vendors and federal buyers complained about the different terms and conditions for contracts across schedules that led to inconsistencies in the contracting process, Nextgov reported. In addition to making the process for obtaining more than 10 million commercial products easier, the agency wanted to lower the entry barrier for small businesses, technology start-ups and others that might want to contract with the government.
In comparison to GSA’s 2015 consolidation effort, which brought together eight schedules, “GSA definitely learned a lot from the challenges it encountered” and “the process has gone quite smoothly with only a few minor system glitches,” said Vanessa Wilson, managing consultant in the consulting firm Aronson’s Government Contract Solutions Group. The agency has “done an excellent job communicating and meeting timelines, as well as providing updates and guidance to industry.”
Like Wilson, Courtney Fairchild, president and CEO of the consulting firm Global Services and GSA schedules expert, said that compared to the 2015 merger, “this phase two far exceeds the expectations.” She attributed the success to GSA meeting its deadlines and automation of the process since contractors will be getting their updated special item numbers for products and services automatically online (this was not the case in 2015.) Fairchild said there might be “a six-month learning curve for vendors and for ordering agencies on the switch over to the special item numbers,” but “I don’t know if you could have mitigated that.”
Susan Davis, GSA consultant for the consulting firm Government Services Exchange, told Government Executive the consolidation is “probably one of the best ideas ever” because it makes the contract process easier for small businesses to work with the federal government since it streamlines the process. “Time will tell” if there are any issues with the merger as it’s too soon to gauge now, she said.
“Contractors should not be seeing changes to any negotiated elements of their existing schedule contract, including pricing, basis of award, warranties, delivery terms, labor categories, and the like,” said Mike Wagner, a partner at Covington & Burling LLP who specializes in government contracts. However, they “absolutely should carefully review the [mass modification] to make sure they understand its scope and effect.”
The third and final phase of the move to a single schedule will happen in the second half of this fiscal year. “I think [it’s] going to be the most interesting part of this entire thing because it’s the most subjective,” said Fairchild. “It’s going to take negotiation in terms of consolidating the contracts together and it’s going to count on a team of people on both sides that are working together to make that happen in the most logical way.”